WASHINGTON—Democrats ignored a veto threat and prepared to ram legislation through the House on Feb. 26, that would stymie President Donald Trump’s bid for billions of extra dollars for his border wall.
“I personally couldn’t handicap the outcome at this point,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.], who is planning a vote within the next three weeks.
Senate passage would force Trump’s first veto, which Congress would surely lack the votes to override. McConnell said a vote is being planned within the next three weeks.
Underscoring the issue’s political sensitivity, House Republican leaders worked to keep the number of GOP supporters below 53. That’s the number that would be needed to reach a two-thirds majority of 288 votes, assuming all Democrats vote “yes,” the margin required for a veto override.
“If they vote their conscience and the Constitution, we will” get Republican votes, said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer [D-Md.] “If they vote party and politics, we won’t.”
The White House wrote to lawmakers formally threatening to veto the legislation. The letter said blocking the emergency declaration would “undermine the administration’s ability to respond effectively to the ongoing crisis at the Southern Border.”
Republicans said it was Democrats who were driven by politics and a desire to oppose Trump at every turn, and said Trump had the authority to declare an emergency to protect the country. They also defended the president’s claims of a security crisis along the boundary with Mexico, which he has said is ravaged by drug smugglers, human traffickers, and immigrants trying to sneak into the United States illegally.
“We are at war on the Southern border with the drug cartels,” said Rep. Pete Olson, [R-Texas].
Democrats also provided less than $1.4 billion for barrier construction. That was well below the $5.7 billion Trump demanded during the record-setting 35-day federal shutdown.
Trump used a 1976 law to declare a national emergency and ordered the shift of $3.6 billion from military construction projects to wall building. Citing other powers, he intends to shift another $3.1 billion from Defense Department anti-drug efforts and a fund that collects seized assets.
In the Senate, three Republicans have already said they will back Democrats’ drive to block the emergency declaration: Maine’s Susan Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis. Just one more GOP defection would provide enough votes to approve the Democratic measure, assuming all Democrats and their independent allies back it.
Republicans said senators asked Pence numerous questions about which projects Trump would divert to pay for the wall, with Sen. Richard Shelby [R-Ala.], saying the discussion was “hearty.” Shelby, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, which controls spending, said his panel would quickly “backfill” money for military construction with other funds he did not identify.
“That issue won’t stay alive long,” Shelby told reporters.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the chief GOP vote counter, said there may be GOP attempts to amend the House measure, saying some Republicans “think they have amendments that would improve it.”
That suggests that McConnell may try finding a way to add language that could sink the Democratic resolution or, perhaps, make it more palatable for Republicans. The law requires the Senate to vote on a measure within 18 days of receiving it from the House.
Even with the Democrats’ effort near-certain to fail, several lawsuits have been filed aimed at blocking the money, including by Democratic state attorney generals and various progressive groups. Those suits at the very least are likely to delay access to those funds for months or years.